“The problem of our independence depends on our will. The present generation has a serious historical responsibility to fulfill: to prolong the colony, or to adopt a gesture of worthy men.”
– Don Pedro, March 1930
Pedro Albizu Campos, known as Puerto Rico’s martyred Nationalist leader from 1930 to his death in 1965, who is often mentioned alongside Malcolm X, and who was honored by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara as “a symbol of the as yet unfree but indomitable Latin America”, certainly comes from humble beginnings. Born in Ponce on September 12, 1891, Don Pedro was raised as an orphan by his maternal aunt Rosa after his mother Juliana Campos died in 1895. The name on his birth certificate was actually Pedro Campos and it was not until 1914 that his father, Don Alejandro Albizu y Romero, formally recognized Pedro as his son, accompanying him to a Ponce law office where they filled legal forms and established Pedro Campos as Pedro Albizu Campos. Don Pedro’s father was of Basque origin by way of Venezuela, while his mother was of Native, African, and European ancestry through her parents that worked as slaves in Puerto Rico. The typical house in the community where he was born had roofs constructed with thatched palm leaves and straw.
Despite those humble beginnings, Pedro Albizu Campos would prove to be a child prodigy. Though he began school at age 12, he completed grades 1 through 8 in just four and a half years, high school in three, and earned a scholarship to study at the University of Vermont where he began his college studies in 1912 at age 21. It was in high school that he developed much of the public skills that he would later become well known for. By 1910 he was being asked to represent his school, the Escuela Superior de Ponce, in a public speaking contest to be held in Mayagüez. Don Pedro won the contest and was presented with an award by none other than José de Diego, one of Puerto Rico’s most revered statesmen and supporters of the nation’s independence. While studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Vermont, within his first year he was recognized as a brilliant student and recommended by a professor for entrance into Harvard University. Although Don Pedro had been an outspoken student leader at the University of Vermont, helping develop a student forum on the theme of the education of women in Latin America and participating in a public discussion against the United States intervention of Mexico, it was in Harvard that he spent several years (from 1913 to 1921) studying and organizing.
Achievements And Activities At Harvard
By the end of his stay in Harvard, during which time he faced many hardships since his scholarships did not pay his entire school expenses, he had completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Letters, the requirements of a Chemical Engineer, and a Law Degree, became fluent in English, gained command of Portuguese, French, Italian, and German, and learned both root languages of Latin and Greek. Don Pedro also joined the first Reserve Officers Training Camp set up at Harvard in 1916 where he studied Military Science, becoming acquainted with the writings of Admiral Alfred Mahan who stressed the future importance of a naval presence in the Caribbean to ensure U.S. domination over the hemisphere, and completed his training with the rank of First Lieutenant. Through this time he would work many jobs, such as a Spanish, French, and Chemistry tutor, reporter for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, Spanish teacher in a High School, and lawn cutter. In spite of his academic and military endeavors, and the obligation to work imposed by his university costs, Don Pedro became a member of a number student clubs and organizations, even forming some himself in his capacity as one of Harvard’s most prominent students.
In Harvard Don Pedro was a member and frequent event attendee of the Cosmopolitan Club, which held discussions on a number of radical subjects, often utilizing Don Pedro as an interpreter, mostly for Latin American students. During those first three years at Harvard (1913-1916), taking part in many events and student conferences, he was able to speak on Puerto Rico and its problems related to colonialism, the assimilation of immigrants in the U.S., the Monroe Doctrine, the situation of the black race in Latin America, and other such topics. At the start of his fourth year at Harvard in 1917, after he had completed his ROTC training, he volunteered to serve with the infantry on the condition that he is sent overseas with a Puerto Rican troop. At the time he believed that the military organization of a people is necessary for their defense, that the only way to develop this defensive capacity is through the sacrifices made through war, and that because of this the participation of Puerto Rico in the War in Europe would be beneficial. Nevertheless, Don Pedro was advised to continue his studies at Harvard Law School until his possible services in Puerto Rico could be assessed. By the following year he was being asked to mobilize to Puerto Rico, where he would organize two hundred volunteers into a “Home Guard” that he would lead in exercises on the beaches of Ponce. That July (1918) he would be officially signed in Ponce as a member of a Puerto Rican infantry, with the rank of Private, and soon after sent to an encampment in Santurce where in November he would be commissioned as First Lieutenant. It was in that capacity that he was discharged from the army in early 1919.
The Start Of The Influence Of The Irish
A month after being discharged, Don Pedro received a letter from the President of the Cosmopolitan Club of Harvard, informing him that he was elected to be part of a delegation of students to the International Conference of Peace being held in Versailles. Forced to travel by way of Galveston, Texas, Saint Louis, Missouri, Mobile, Alabama, and New York City, he arrived in Boston too late to accompany the delegates. Although the trip was a disappointment in that sense, the trip resulted in Don Pedro having a much more personal view of the injustices that define the reality of the United States, for it was while he traveled through those southern cities that he experienced the cruel treatment and discrimination of black people in that part of the country. Ready to focus on his university responsibilities, Don Pedro returned to Harvard for September 1919 and resumed his role as a prominent student activist, becoming particularly involved in the issue of Irish nationalism and the then struggle for an independent Republic comprising the entire island of Ireland. While Don Pedro was also involved in student conferences at Harvard around the independence of India from British rule, it was the struggle of the Irish Republicans, who inhabited a much smaller territory than India, against British rule that would ultimately receive the greater amount of his attention and participation.
The fact that Ireland was under the colonial control of a much larger empire, the British Empire, influenced Don Pedro to take a closer look at that nationalist struggle in order to draw lessons for the independence struggle of Puerto Rico that he had begun to embrace by the time he was in high school. Another influence was the religious connection, where a predominantly Roman Catholic population was being oppressed by a Protestant population—by the time Don Pedro finished his army duties in Ponce and returned to Harvard, he had established a relationship with two Catholic Priests that motivated his commitment to Catholicism as a means of preserving and defending Puerto Rican traditions in the face of the colonial occupation of the U.S., which is predominantly Christian, but of that population predominantly Protestant. One of the priests, the Irish Father John Ryan, may have been among those first persons to engage Don Pedro in discussion around the topic of Ireland’s independence. Father Jack Ryan is said to have also been Don Pedro’s guide towards obtaining his communion, while another priest, Father Luis Rodes, is said to have discussed with Don Pedro the approach of combining science and practicality with his faith. It was during this time that Don Pedro studied the works of Jaime Balmes, a 19th century Spanish Catholic Priest known for writing in defense of the values of Catholicism and Spain as opposed to those of Protestantism and Northern Europe. It is very interesting to note that Jaime Balmes would go on to be quoted by many Irish Nationalists committed to the Republican movement, one example being Terence McSwiney who died during a 1920 hunger strike and who cited Balmes a number of times in his book published a year later (Principles of Freedom). The influence of Balmes on Don Pedro and Irish Republicanism is clear; he provided the philosophical basis for their national struggle as a people of Roman Catholic tradition against a non-Catholic invading force.
These years at Harvard were those in which Don Pedro developed the tools, the leadership capacity, that he would be revered for in the years after he left Harvard in 1921 and returned to Puerto Rico. With his detailed knowledge of many international topics, when he spoke he was often listened to with a respect that is given a mentor or teacher, leading us to conclude that his persona as “Maestro”/”Teacher”, bestowed upon him by the Puerto Rican people during the years of his Nationalist Party leadership, had been firmly developed in Harvard. All of this and more is reason to take a look at his activities in Harvard more closely, particularly as his activities related to Irish Nationalism, for it was that struggle that he participated most energetically in, and it was that struggle that served as a kind of organizational preparation for the Nationalist struggle he would eventually lead in the years to come. One of the first remarkable encounters he had with the Irish Republican Movement was in 1919 when Irish Republican leader Éamon de Valera escaped from a jail in England and made his way to the United States for a tour in which he hoped to gain support for the Nationalist movement. This was during the delicate time after the Easter Rising in 1916 Ireland, and shortly after the outbreak of the Irish Republican Army’s war for independence against the British government.
Éamon de Valera and Don Pedro established a good relationship, one that became so productive that de Valera is said to have consulted Don Pedro at some point while drafting a Constitution for the Irish Republic. What is known for certain is that when de Valera visited Harvard in 1919, Don Pedro was called to comment afterwards on his speech in behalf of Irish independence, going on to deliver a speech in support of that country’s patriotic struggle that was recognized as “the speech of the evening” and that marked him as the only other person at the conference to support that country’s unconditional independence. After this encounter his participation on behalf of the Irish struggle increased to the point where he had formed a Student Council for the Independence of Ireland in Harvard, in addition to organizing such councils in Boston Technical and Boston College, utilizing these groups to facilitate the first discussions participated in by both students and professors in those schools on that subject. The issue was very controversial at the time, but Don Pedro conducted his activities with a courage and brilliance that marked his leadership in later years.
His Emergence In Puerto Rico As Nationalist Leader
In June 1921, after his final series of university courses, Don Pedro’s economic situation forced him to return to Puerto Rico without having completed the necessary examinations to complete his law degree. From Puerto Rico, he did his best to earn the opportunity to take the required exams from his position there, finally earning this chance in June 1922. Passing the exam, earning his law degree, he took the Puerto Rican Bar Examination in November 1923, being approved for service in Law in February 1924. During this time when he completed the requirements to begin his profession in Law, in 1922, Don Pedro married Laura Emilia Meneses, a woman of Peruvian descent he met at Harvard and who he went on to have three children with (Pedro in 1924, Rosa Emilia in 1925, and Laura Esperanza in 1927). With his outstanding performance at the University of Harvard, Don Pedro, upon graduation, was offered a number of jobs within the U.S. government, including one as an assistant in the U.S. Supreme Court, another as a diplomat for the State Department in Mexico, and a third again in diplomatic service for the U.S. government. Influenced by a Catholic sense of duty towards the well-being of the Puerto Rican people, he respectfully declined each of these offers, deciding instead to open a law office in a Ponce neighborhood where he would defend the rights of the poor, often times being paid in return with whatever his clients could afford, chickens, vegetables, or sometimes a mere “thank you”. As a struggling defender of the poor, he began inserting himself into the politics of Puerto Rico by way of the island’s Union Party, through which he supported the island’s independence, and which he renounced in 1924 when the party dropped its independence proposal. It was then that he joined the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico.
Upon joining the Nationalist Party, he quickly put his skills into the service of his homeland’s movement for independence. Attending many of the party’s meetings, Don Pedro would immediately begin collaborating with Don Ramón Mayoral Barnés on the newspaper El Nacionalista de Ponce, for which he wrote articles and organized conferences. It was while writing for that newspaper, in addition to holding public meetings in the plaza of Ponce every Sunday, orienting the people on political events, that he fully developed himself as an apostle for Puerto Rican independence. Don Pedro would later, in 1933, reminisce in a speech on the critical moment that the Nationalist movement was in during that year of 1924, even commenting that beside himself there were only two other committed nationalists at the time, Mayoral Barnés and Marcos Morales, who was selected President of the Nationalist Party that year. In September 1925, the party would hold a meeting in Ponce to re-elect its leadership, at which point they selected Don Pedro as the party’s first Vice-President.
At the time, the majority of nationalists in Puerto Rico were white professionals, the membership of the Nationalist Party being little different. This fact influenced the tension that existed from the time of the mulatto Don Pedro’s energetic insertion into the Nationalist movement when he joined the party in 1924. Nevertheless, Don Pedro’s influence continued, especially in terms of his teaching the public about the colonial situation that required their committed attention. One of the first dramatic events where the passionate patriotism of Don Pedro became clear was on July 16, 1926 in Ponce during a party commemoration of the date on which José de Diego died. At this event, which saw decorations including the Puerto Rican flag alongside the U.S. flag, Don Pedro patiently waited his turn at the close of the meeting, calmly made his way onto the stage without saying a word until after he had removed each of the small U.S. flags that could be seen, which he placed into his pocket. He went on to exclaim, “Flag of the United States, I do not salute you because although it is true that you are the symbol of a free and sovereign nation, in Puerto Rico you represent piracy and pillage!” Immediately the entire audience broke out in cheer, bearing witness to the first decided patriot in Puerto Rico’s history after the U.S. invasion with the bravery and intelligence that might bring about the solution to their colonial situation. Although Don Pedro was clearly establishing his role as patriotic leader, the leadership of the Nationalist Party in their majority saw his emergence as a threat, mostly owing to the fact that Don Pedro was a man of color, and so they began to take measures to prevent his possible elevation to the post of Party President. This is the context in which the party’s leadership asked Don Pedro to make an extended pilgrimage outside of Puerto Rico to gain the movement international support.
Don Pedro accepted the task of making the first-hand relationships in other countries that would gain their movement the support it would need to grow, leaving Puerto Rico on June 20, 1927. His travels would take him to the Dominican Republic (June 21-September 10, 1927), Haiti (September 11-13, 1927), Cuba (September 16-December 1927), Mexico (December 1927-February 1928), again to Cuba (February 25-March 1928), Peru (March 1928-December 1929), and Venezuela (December 1929). His travels to the Dominican Republic and Cuba were very productive in terms of establishing international support organizations for the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, while his travels to Haiti and Mexico were not. Though his stay in Peru was in large part to spend time with his wife and their recently born daughter Laura Esperanza, who was born while he was in Cuba, he did manage to engage in discussions with revolutionaries there around the possibilities of an uprising against the dictator Augusto B. Leguía. Don Pedro’s stay in Venezuela was a kind of stop-over on his return back to Puerto Rico, but while there he did make frequent visits to Caracas to familiarize himself with local revolutionaries, as well as making trips to the shrine of Latin American Liberator Simón Bolívar. He would return to his homeland on January 4, 1930, having worked tirelessly to bring international attention and support to his homeland’s cause, and having received little in terms of support from the Nationalist Party itself.
One of the first tasks Don Pedro would set out to do upon his return was to reorganize the newspaper El Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, which had ceased to be published during the last years of his pilgrimage, and which had originally been titled El Nacionalista de Ponce until Don Pedro influenced the name change during his stay in the Dominican Republic by means of a letter. Without question, there had been changes in the political environment of Puerto Rico during his travels, but when he renewed the publishing of the newspaper, his attending of meetings and conferences, and other such activities, Don Pedro again began to excite the general public into a commotion. By February 8 he was being interviewed by the newspaper El Mundo on his travels and the situation in Puerto Rico, during which he pointed out that, “Only a party founded and oriented towards the independence of the country as the sole and immediate solution can stop our complete displacement by the invaders and enable us to bring back to our hands the native wealth that at present the North Americans possess.” His return brought him much attention, and it was not long before the majority of the youth, intellectuals, and professionals were listening closely to what Don Pedro had to say and identifying with him. It was on May 11 (1930) that Don Pedro’s emergence as the leader of Puerto Rico’s Liberation Movement was complete, in the aftermath of an assembly held by the Nationalist Party where Don Pedro gave a speech some two and a half hours long, sharing his travel experiences, and scolding the party for not having assisted him economically during his return back to the island and for becoming disorganized in his absence. After his speech, which was received with applause by the majority of those in attendance, a new leadership was selected, with Don Pedro now as President of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico.
His Leadership And The Parallels With Irish Republicanism
The course that Don Pedro would define for the Nationalist Party in its participation within the Liberation Movement, from the moment of his inaugural speech, would be clearly one that requires the virtues of courage and sacrifice. At the end of that speech Don Pedro made clear the dedication and commitment that was necessary of Nationalists by saying, “Let’s swear here solemnly that we will defend the Nationalist ideal and that we will sacrifice our property and our life if necessary for the independence of our homeland.” In retrospect many parallels have been made between Don Pedro’s Nationalism and the Nationalism to be found within the Irish Republican Movement. The influence of that movement on Don Pedro, which started during his stay at Harvard, began right at the time when, in 1916, the Easter Rising produced the execution of Irish Nationalist Pádraig (Patrick) Pearse, who made the following statement to the military court: “When I was a child of ten, I went on my bare knees by my bedside one night and promised God that I should devote my Life to an effort to free my country. I have kept the promise. I have helped to organize, to train, and to discipline my fellow-countrymen to the sole end that, when the time came, they might fight for Irish freedom.” Clearly in the statements made by both men there is the element of sacrifice involved for the sake of the liberation of their country. The organization, training, and disciplining of people for the militant defense of the country not only defined Pearse’s relationship with the Irish Volunteers that he helped to lead (it later became the Irish Republican Army), but it is also what would define much of Don Pedro’s activities once he gained leadership of Puerto Rico’s Nationalist Party.
On March 23, 1931 the Patriotic Association of Puerto Rican Youth was formed and soon after transformed into the Corps of Cadets of the Republic, a paramilitary formation that was organized, according to Don Pedro, to “increase discipline, improve the physical condition of all Party members, and increase their devotion to the homeland.” At the same time, women were organized into what was called the Corps of Nurses, becoming the Daughters of Liberty in 1935. The Cadets of the Republic, besides being built with the same motivations as the Irish Volunteers under Pearse, also designed their uniform of a black shirt and white pants after the black jackets that the IRA and Irish Republic Brotherhood had become known for. The Cadets would change their name in a 1935 assembly in Caguas to the Liberation Army. During these years Don Pedro tirelessly traveled throughout the island calling for the defense of the Puerto Rican nation, setting up by 1934 a network of leadership in each municipality of the island, with the local chapters, of which there were more than 44, having the responsibility of recruiting, educating, and mobilizing the nationalists in each town. Don Pedro had initiated the great task of national revitalization, explicitly calling for the preservation of cultural traditions in the face of the U.S. invasion. He even helped to organize the National Federation of Puerto Rican Students in 1932, which drew members from both the universities as well as the high schools, and which was one of the leading oppositions to the attempt at making English the mandatory language of school instruction.
The goal of preserving and revitalizing the cultural traditions of Puerto Rico, including the use of Spanish as the national language, is very much paralleled by the activities of Irish leader Éamon de Valera, whose personal contact with Don Pedro has already been mentioned. de Valera, a mathematics teacher by profession, was also known as a Gaeilgeoir, or Irish speaker. The language of Ireland having gone through a stage where its use had declined considerably, a movement began in the 1840s that sought the revival of Gaelic, a movement that was successful but which still required great effort by the time de Valera supported it in the early 1900s. While the basic aim of this revival is comparable to that of the Puerto Rican campaign to defend it’s culture, the Puerto Rican case was situated in the much more critical situation of a colonial power that had deliberately sought to assimilate the conquered peoples in a way that mandated the replacement of their national language with the language of the colonial empire. In Puerto Rico, the situation was one in which, nearly overnight, the official language of the education and legal systems were arbitrarily changed. Though in the Irish case the issue was a much more historical one, whereas in Puerto Rico it was contemporary, of course in both cases the issue became intertwined with the more serious issue of the survival of a national people and their traditions.
Repressing The Nationalist Threat
Those early years of Don Pedro’s leadership saw a great rise in his popularity, for not only was he writing articles that were published nationally, making appearances in the plazas of the towns to give speeches and invite discussion, he also spoke regularly over the radio to an audience that included nearly everyone on the island who owned a radio (his intrigue was that great). As his influence grew, the seriousness of his threat to the U.S. government also grew, especially after an experimental try at the 1932 elections failed to receive a victory and influenced Don Pedro to initiate his policy of noncollaboration with the colonial regime, including the boycotting of elections held within the colonial context. This increased radicalism, the determination to struggle for liberation outside of the legal structure imposed on the island, pushed U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to name Army Colonel E. Francis Riggs in October 1933 as Chief of the island’s Insular Police. By that time Don Pedro’s threat to U.S. interests had increased greatly by his becoming the moral leader of a number of workers’ protests that included a general strike against a developing gasoline monopoly that caused increased gas prices for the island. The threat of Don Pedro was also marked in January 1934 when it was announced that he accepted leadership over the strikes being conducted by workers in the highly profitable sugar industry controlled by U.S. monopoly corporations. The sugar strikes were paralyzing, and Colonel Riggs at one point issued a notice that his policemen would be keeping an armed presence at worksites and elsewhere through the island to ensure that public order was kept. It is worth noting, to foreshadow police tactics against the Nationalist Party to come, that on February 21, 1934 Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Augusto Sandino was assassinated by a group organized by Colonel Riggs in cooperation with the U.S. army and agents of what would become the CIA.
In the situation of Ireland, we have the case of British Army Officer John Maxwell who was sent to that country days after the Easter Rising to manage the situation for the empire, famously enforcing his policy of executing captured Republicans. This was how Pádraig (Patrick) Pearse met his fate upon being captured. In Puerto Rico, the first instance of police violence towards Nationalists, and the first exchange of violence between the two sides, took place on October 24, 1935, after the sugar strikes had subsided, the Insular Police had been sufficiently organized under Riggs, and the Nationalist Party learned of a plot to assassinate Don Pedro or other leaders. On that day, the police attempted to set up a group of Nationalists driving near the University of Puerto Rico campus at Río Piedras, approaching their vehicle and firing at them, killing four and mortally wounding another. Amazingly, four days after what became known as a massacre, Colonel Riggs was noted in island newspapers as having acknowledged a state of war between the police and the Nationalist Party. This was the beginning of a series of violent clashes, which were in reality the marks of the escalating colonial conflict, which would define the 1930s decade. This event was followed on February 23, 1936 with the killing of Colonel Riggs, believed responsible for the Río Piedras Massacre, by Nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elías Beauchamp, who were captured and immediately taken to police headquarters where they were executed. It was clear that the Nationalists would carry out armed resistance to the violence of the colonial regime, including retaliations towards those select people directly responsible for violence against them. Of course, the colonial regime had already placed into effect the plan of neutralizing the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, and the extent of their efforts were clear.
The revolutionary threat that was Don Pedro’s leadership was articulated many times as soon as he returned from his three-year pilgrimage in 1930, for it was from then on that he would consistently emphasize the legal fact that Puerto Rico was made into an autonomous territory by Spain in the months before the Treaty of Paris was signed by them, and which transferred power over Puerto Rico to the U.S. The Charter of Autonomy, he argued, made the Treaty of Paris null and void as it relates to Puerto Rico because the Puerto Rican Autonomous Cabinet that was set up was never consulted during the negotiations of that agreement. In those early years of Don Pedro’s leadership the U.S. government had appointed a number of officials to lead in the counterrevolutionary efforts against the Nationalist Party. In 1933, the same year Colonel Riggs was appointed Chief of Police, President Roosevelt appointed American lawyer A. Cecil Snyder to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, where he began an investigation of the Nationalist Party that would result in his prosecution of Don Pedro and several other Nationalist leaders in the 1936 aftermath of the killing of Riggs. In 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Robert A. Cooper, ex-Governor of South Carolina, to be Judge of the District Court for Puerto Rico, from which post he presided over the Nationalists’ trial, forcing a second jury selection after the first failed to return the wanted guilty verdict. The same year as that appointment, Roosevelt also appointed Army Major General Blanton C. Winship as Governor of Puerto Rico. Winship would have blood on his hands on March 21, 1937 when, shortly before the Nationalist leaders had been sentenced to prison in Atlanta, Georgia, a peaceful demonstration was organized by Nationalists who were to march unarmed to the Ponce Church where they planned to hold a prayer for the release of the Nationalist prisoners and in commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico. Permission had been given previously by officials for the march, but when Nationalists gathered that day they were informed Governor Winship had withdrew the permits for the parade. Deciding to continue marching anyway, police opened fire on the Natonalists, resulting in the deaths of 17 civilians, 2 policemen, and the wounding of some 200 others. In coming months there would be an attempt on the life of Judge Cooper as well as, on July 25, 1938, Governor Winship, the second resulting in the immediate execution of Nationalist Angel Esteban Antongiorgi.
More Parallels Between The Irish And Puerto Rican Colonial Wars
Days after the killing of Colonel Riggs by Hiram Rosado and Elías Beauchamp, an agent of the FBI had made a warning that, “Campos was following the tactics employed by the Irish Rebellion under de Valera.” Clearly, even colonial forces understood the parallels between Puerto Rico’s Nationalist struggle and Ireland’s Nationalist struggle at that time. However, also clear was the parallel between the U.S. and British colonial forces in terms of their practice of jailing and even executing Nationalist fighters. In Puerto Rico, the 1936 arrests of Nationalist leaders, which produced the imprisonment and exile of Don Pedro until he returned to Puerto Rico in 1947, resulted in the definite weakening of the Nationalist Party there. As the parallels between the Nationalist struggles in Puerto Rico and Ireland have been written about, the issue of the military draft, which Puerto Ricans had been subject to since the imposition of their U.S. citizenship began in 1917, has also consistently come up. Éamon de Valera, the Irish Republican leader, was an eloquent opponent to the military draft in Ireland, explaining that the forced enlistment of people who do not wish to be part of the country enlisting them is an attack on their human rights. de Valera made this statement in the early 1940s when Great Britain began to enforce obligatory military service in Northern Ireland, and at the same time when the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico began its short-reaching campaign of civil disobedience against their enforced military service. Coincidence or not, the similarity in tactics at the time is a fact.
While Don Pedro was imprisoned in Atlanta, Georgia, where he suffered a decline in his health, he was visited by Pedro Capó Rodríguez (September 1939) who, as a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, extended an offer to him that would guarantee his comrades and his own release in addition to posts within the colonial government in exchange for the ceasing of their campaign of militant Nationalism. The offer was declined by Don Pedro, but later accepted by Luis Muñoz Marín who would become Puerto Rico’s first elected Governor in 1949, two years after Don Pedro’s return to Puerto Rico. Muñoz Marín would also help the U.S. government in creating the Commonwealth Constitution passed in 1952, a political measure that simply took attention away from the colonial reality by declaring Puerto Rico a “Free Associated State”, also freeing up international responsibilities such as with the United Nations, who for the years preceding the Constitution had required from the U.S. yearly reports on the colonial status of Puerto Rico. The deal taken by Muñoz Marín to become Governor, considering the fact that he was at once a supporter of Puerto Rico’s total independence, has been compared to the decision of Michael Collins, an Irish Nationalist leader, to accept the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the Republican War of Independence and that resulted in a partitioned Ireland (in a Republic of Ireland, and a Northern Ireland under British rule). That treaty was seen as an act of treachery towards the Republican cause, much as the so-called “democratic” governorship of Muñoz Marín and the Commonwealth Constitution were seen as attacks on Puerto Rico’s right and struggle for national self-determination. The veiling of the colonial reality that the U.S. government had as their goal was of serious consequence, and so Don Pedro had ordered the start of a revolution on October 27, 1950 after a pattern of police arrests had been realized, ordering it to be started October 30. Because the revolution, which had already been in planning stages, was ordered so suddenly, many of the logistics were not able to be carried out smoothly and so though hundreds of Nationalists did participate in the insurrection, those that did for the most part did so with the understanding that the fact of its foreseeable failure would not excuse their passing up of perhaps the last historical moment to protest the new changes in the colony before what they believed would be Don Pedro’s inevitable arrest. To not act was seen as dishonorable by many, and so many patriots rose up, causing much damage to colonial structures and going as far as declaring Puerto Rico a Free Republic in Jayuya where Blanca Canales assumed that leadership role, and conducting an armed demonstration on President Truman in Washington, D.C. where Nationalist Griselio Torresola was killed and Nationalist Oscar Collazo was captured and imprisoned until his 1979 release.
The Conclusion Of Don Pedro’s Emergence And Leadership
Don Pedro would be arrested shortly after the start of the 1950 Insurrection, jailed, and tortured by means of radiation experimentation on his body. This experimentation caused such injury that he was released in 1953, only to be jailed again after the March 1, 1954 attack on the House of Representatives led by Nationalist Lolita Lebron. His health would continue to decline in prison, where he would suffer a stroke in 1956. Released in 1964, Don Pedro would only last until April 21, 1965, when he passed into immortality, at 73 years of age but having spent a total of about 25 years in prison or custody. The Liberation Movement of Puerto Rico had lost its first true teacher of the ideals, virtues, and practices that would define Puerto Rican Revolutionary Nationalism. His emergence as leader of Puerto Rico’s Nationalist Party, and of Puerto Rico’s National Liberation Movement in general, was directly tied to the revitalization of Puerto Rican cultural traditions as well as the introduction of new ones. The use of Spanish as the national language was defended, as was adherence to the principles of the Catholic faith and observance of its holy days; the recognition of the flag of Puerto Rico as the only legitimate one to symbolize that country was emphasized with dramatic enthusiasm; and the patriotic history of Puerto Rico was revived as the foundation for the movement for independence, with the town of Lares and the events that took place there on September 23, 1868, organized by such heroes as Ramón Emeterio Betances, Segundo Ruiz Belvis, Manuel Rojas, Mathias Brugman, Mariana Bracetti, Francisco Ramírez Medina, Lola Rodríguez de Tió, and others, being used as examples of the highest patriotic virtues in action, and beginning the annual commemoration of people like Betances, Eugenio María de Hostos, de Diego, and Antonio Valero de Bernabé and the events they took park in (like the 1868 “Grito de Lares”). The importance of honoring and having pride in ones culture was consistently emphasized by Don Pedro, and it is largely because of his committed leadership that cultural pride and preservation persisted in the face of U.S. colonial rule, and in a militant way. It can be argued that his leadership is responsible for the survival of a Puerto Rican cultural reality that includes a militant section that will never fully cease to exist, and which will continue to play a key role in struggles related to the survival of the Puerto Rican national identity.
By the time Don Pedro began college in 1912, some 100 years ago, he already had within him many of the traits that would define him after he fully emerged in 1930 as Puerto Rico’s Nationalist leader. His academic achievements and natural brilliance, in addition to his military knowledge and practice as a “Poor Man’s Lawyer”, capped off with his oratorical skills and charisma, allowed Don Pedro to establish great respect throughout his homeland, with people called him Teacher in acknowledgement of his leadership skills. His relationship with the Irish Republican Movement in college would also affect his emergence as a leader, for it influenced the form and tactics that he would introduce to the Nationalist Party while he was it’s President. His Liberation Army would be known as the Camisas Negras/Black Shirts for their uniform styled after Irish Republican fighters. The revolutionary emergence of Don Pedro is remarkable considering the beginnings he had as an orphan in an impoverished Ponce barrio, and it is admirable considering the dire colonial situation that existed at that point in Puerto Rico’s history. To conclude, the similarities between the Nationalist movements in Ireland and Puerto Rico will continue to be explored and written on, and many will continue to be intrigued by Don Pedro’s personal connection to that movement in Ireland, from his personal contact with Éamon de Valera to his organizing in Boston of student councils that actively supported Ireland’s complete independence. More importantly, as people continue to explore this connection, they will learn about one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved sons, and the person who personifies commitment to both patriotism and the primacy of the human virtues of freedom and solidarity. Because the colonial situation of Puerto Rico continues to exist, those who wish to support that nation’s patriotic struggle would benefit from taking a look at the development and emergence of Pedro Albizu Campos, for the lesson inherited by his legacy leaves that patriotic struggle with a light of inspiration that cannot be extinguished. The development of courage and sacrifice in Don Pedro was to such an extent that he ended up giving his life for his homeland, dying a martyr, much as the captured Pádraig Pearson had done after the Easter Rising. In his statement before that military court, beyond restating the devotion of his life to free his country at age 10, Pearson also stated, “Believe that we too love freedom and desire it. To us it is more than anything else in the world. If you strike us down now, we shall rise again, and renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.” Pedro Albizu Campos represents to Puerto Rico that inextinguishable passion for freedom, that unconquerable patriotic mission, and the patriotic people of Ireland can forever take pride in their movement’s influence on our Teacher.
“…Puerto Rico was a sovereign nation on the date in which the Treaty of Paris was drawn up, and Spain could neither give away Puerto Rico nor could the US annex it… nor is there any legal government in Puerto Rico… one would have to knock to pieces all the international rights of the world, all the political rights of the world, to validate the invasion of the U.S. in Puerto Rico and the present military occupation of our national territory.”
– Don Pedro, September 23, 1950